STRAIGHT TALKING September 2014
Roger Helmer’s electronic newsletter from Strasbourg
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A huge welcome to Douglas Carswell
UKIP members have often asked me why Douglas hadn’t joined us. And now he has. And he’s done it in an honourable way, inviting his voters to confirm his decision in a by-election.
This is an enormous development for UKIP. We can’t be complacent, and we have to work hard (Margot Parker and I are going down to Clacton next weekend to work on the campaign). But it does look as though Douglas is likely to win.
We have a ground-swell of public opinion for UKIP, especially down in the South East. We have Douglas, with a very strong personal following in Clacton. And we even have Tory MPs saying they won’t campaign against him. All being well, Douglas will be our first Westminster MP. But the way things are going, he won’t be alone for long.
UKIP Members: Urgent Appeal
Suddenly we have several by-elections at once: Clacton; Heywood & Middleton (Manchester); and now the Police Commissioner in Yorkshire. We urgently need campaigners on the ground, especially in Clacton and Manchester. If you can only spare a day, please do so ASAP. If you can spend more time in either constituency – your party and your country need you. Now.
The Scottish Referendum
So much has been written about the Scottish referendum, and we’ll know the outcome very soon. My last blog post on the subject is here. The only point I’d make again here is this: everyone is telling us that this is a decision forever. No going back, says the Prime Minister. But just suppose that come Hogmanay, there have been a series of severe economic set-backs north of the border. Suppose it’s coming clear that the negotiations are stuck, and Salmond can’t keep the Pound Sterling. Suppose the opinion polls on independence have swung dramatically negative (as I suspect may be the case). Does anybody think in those circumstances that the Scots people must be compelled to carry on with a course of action which (by then) will clearly be disastrous? I don’t think so. But we’ll see.
A Regional Meeting
On Thursday Sept 4th I landed at Birmingham Airport after our first week back in Brux, and immediately drove to the Black Bull in Market Overton, in the great county of Rutland, just in time for our regional meeting. Margot Parker was there already. Such meetings can sometimes be a bit bureaucratic and administrative, but this one was downright inspiring.
When I joined UKIP early in 2012, it had some great people and some great ideas, but I don’t think anyone would have suggested that it was a paragon of organisation. We got on as best we could. The contrast today is remarkable. At the Black Bull, we had proper, serious reports from County Chairmen. We had new organisational structures. We have 30+ active branches across the East Midlands. We already have a fair number of candidates in place for the local elections next year, and a solid programme of action to select General Election candidates and to fill remaining candidacies in local elections.
It no longer feels like a bunch of enthusiastic amateurs. It feels like a solid political party with the organisation to back its aspirations. Much credit must go to Regional Chairman Alan Graves, and to Paul Oakden, whose day job is organising the UK activities of Margot and me. He has committed a great deal of his spare time to the organisation of the Region, and the results speak for themselves (and thanks and respect to Jo — Mrs. Oakden — for tolerating his work-load!).
I must also throw in a word for the Black Bull, where I have eaten from time to time. It’s a great country pub, and the chips are outstanding.
Afraid of a Referendum?
An emerging Tory theme is “Why is UKIP afraid of a referendum?”. This is presumably based on their argument that “Only the Tories can offer a Referendum”, and the consequent argument that if UKIP takes away Tory support (itself a debatable issue), then we’ll miss out on the Tory referendum.
People in UKIP will hardly give this line of thought a moment’s credence. But it keeps cropping up in social media. Recently I’ve had a certain Anthea Bailey asking “Why are you so afraid of it?” (I don’t know this lady, but she appears to be a Tory from Lincolnshire ). Of course it’s a challenge to give a comprehensive answer in Twitter’s 140 characters, so instead I’ve referred Ms. Bailey to my blog post “Cameron’s cynical Referendum scam”, which I think answers her question fairly thoroughly.
After Brexit: EFTA? EEA?
I recently received a cogently-argued paper from Futurus and the Campaign for an Independent Britain, making the case that EU withdrawalists should seek to get behind a single, clear policy for Britain’s relationship with the EU after Brexit. It points to the problems for the Yes Campaign in Scotland, because Salmond and the SNP are unable to articulate a clear economic and monetary plan. It argues that the main thrust of the EU “In” Campaign will be from businesses fearing a threat to their exports across the EU, and that a single, clear answer is vital. “Let’s be part of EFTA (European Free Trade Area )”, or “Let’s be part of the EEA (European Economic Area)” seems to fill the bill.
This approach ignores a key problem: membership of EFTA and/or the EEA implies acceptance of the EU’s “Free Movement” rules – which is one of the key things we want to get out of. We simply can’t control our borders while we have any part of EU free movement. And we’ve seen recently the spiteful reaction of the EU against Switzerland when that country attempted to abrogate its free movement commitments.
Membership of EFTA implies also acceptance of at least part of the Acquis – hence the jibes about ‘”legislation by fax”.
No. Brexit means Brexit. We want out. We want Britain to be an independent, democratic, self-governing country again. And after that, we want a straightforward free trade agreement with our continental neighbours. Dozens of other third countries have such agreements with the EU. As the EU’s largest customer, and largest net customer (which we shall be after Brexit), we shall be able to negotiate a very favourable trade deal.
British MEPs fail to block most EU law
Robert Oxley, campaign director of Business for Britain, conducted a study that reveals a majority of British MEPS voted against 576 motions between 2009 and 2014. Of the 576 motions the British MEPs were outvoted 485 times! This means that the British view is more often out-voted and ignored.
Furthermore the UK is one of the most under-represented countries in the parliament (one MEP per 880,000 British voters compared to one MEP for every 70,900 Maltese). Robert Oxley claims that reforms are needed to put the tyranny of Brussels right. I say that the only way forward is to get out of this union, a union that blatantly ignores the UK’s attempts to protect itself from destructive legislation.
Even when British MEPs unite across the party political lines we stand no chance of stopping the ever-growing power of Brussels.
EU vacuum cleaner rules suck
I apologise for the slightly bad-taste and clichéd headline. But really, how absurd can you get? This EU policy is wrong for so many reasons. First, because governments shouldn’t interfere in markets to this extent. Secondly, because even if they do, it should be a national not an EU decision. And third, because if you insist on low powered vacuum cleaners, and hair driers, and what-not, people will run them for longer. You will waste time, but you won’t save energy. Or emissions.
I was interested to see in social media a number of people suggesting that Sir James Dyson would be particularly incensed by these silly and counter-productive rules. Someone even suggested he might want to join UKIP. No such luck, I’m afraid. It seems that Dyson already produces low-powered vacuum cleaners. Some commentators suggest that Dyson actually welcomes the costs and disruptions inflicted by these rules on its competitors, while Dyson itself escapes Scot-free. Although to be fair, Dyson has criticised the rules as over-regulation even though it isn’t directly affected.
We tend to assume that industry hates EU regulation and the unnecessary costs it imposes. But many large companies have learned to play the system, and lobby for regulation which disadvantages competitors, especially when it raises barriers to entry for new players. In the EU, nothing is as straightforward as it appears to start with (and sometimes it doesn’t appear very straightforward to start with, either!).
The case against higher energy taxes
I recently came across a weighty article by John Constable of the Renewable Energy Foundation. It deals with the economic impact of energy taxes – plus all the other quasi-taxes and subsidies on energy which our government imposes on energy consumers and tax-payers. It was published in the authoritative Journal of the Economic Research Council.
The paper is substantial, technical and frankly quite heavy going for a non-specialist. But I was gratified to find that it vindicated all my opinions about taxation in general and energy taxation in particular. We all know that high taxes stunt economic growth. It has been demonstrated again and again, in dozens of countries over a number of decades, that reductions in tax rates lead (counter-intuitively) to increases in revenue. Lower taxes encourage enterprise, and labour market participation; they attract foreign investment, and dramatically reduce tax avoidance and the black economy.
But Constable argues cogently that high taxes on energy are particularly pernicious. Energy lies at the heart of manufacturing, of transportation, of virtually every economic activity. And of course energy is a very significant factor in household expenditure. So high energy taxes have a uniquely detrimental effect on economic activity.
I see this proposition in action, from the sharp end. In Brussels, I talk to major European and other energy-intensive companies, and they are telling me (and the Commission) that they’re just not prepared to invest in Europe as long as our energy prices remain so hopelessly uncompetitive.
I like to think that the European Commission is slowly seeing the light. As outgoing EU Industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani put it We are creating an industrial massacre in Europe”. Sadly, of course, we’re just in the process of appointing a new Commission. The new Commissioners will come in full of idealistic fantasies about saving the planet, and we shall have to educate them all over again.
TTIP and the Guardian
I am starting to get a lot of comment on the proposed Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership, TTIP. A recent story in the Guardian had me unequivocally supporting it . But of course real life is rather more complicated.
For a start, TTIP is in an early stage of negotiation. We don’t know yet what it will contain (and your 24 UKIP MEPs will have a chance to comment and vote on it). So we can’t be sure at this stage whether to support it or not.
As with so many early policy positions, the water has been muddied by alarmist sound-bites which are (to say the least) premature. “TTIP will allow wicked multinationals to sue the government”. “TTIP will force the UK to privatise the NHS”.
So let’s be clear. We support free trade in principle, and we believe that a good transatlantic free-trade agreement will mean more growth, more jobs, and more prosperity. But not at any price. We will firmly oppose any aspects of the deal that adversely affect our country (or our NHS). And we will be vigilant to see that it is a genuine free trade deal, not a typical EU exercise in managed and over-regulated markets.
Countryside Alliance comes to Brux
Last week Sir Barney White-Spunner, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, came with colleagues to see us in the parliament in Brux, and I met them, along with Jim Carver (W. Mids) and Amjad Bashir (Yorks). The CA has serious concerns about draconian EU proposals to limit the use of lead shot for shooting game.
These proposals could have a devastating impact on the shooting business, estimated to be worth £2 billion a year to the British economy. Given that lead is poisonous, of course we recognise the need for proper controls, but we already have perfectly adequate UK regulation in place. There is absolutely no need for the EU to be involved on the issue.
Later this month at our Party Conference in Doncaster, the CA is organising a fringe meeting, and has invited me to address it. Of course I shall be very happy to do so.
What do MEPs actually do?
A frequent taunt from our opponents during the last euro-elections was that “UKIP MEPs don’t turn up and don’t do much work”. This has certainly not been my experience, and I was reflecting on the accusation yesterday, which was exceptionally busy.
I was in the office before eight. At 9:30 I was recording a VoxBox talking-head video on the Scottish referendum. At 11:30, our UKIP MEPs’ voting meeting. At noon: votes. At two, I chaired the UKIP MEPs’ delegation meeting. At five, I chaired the EFDD Bureau Meeting, and at six attended our Group meeting
At seven, I showed up at a nuclear industry reception (Foratom), and at eight I spoke at a dinner debate organised by the European Energy Forum and hosted by the Norwegian company Statoil . Getting away as soon as I decently could, I caught up with the tail end of the Gadfly dinner, finally getting back to my hotel some time after eleven.
During the day I also made two plenary speeches, including one on the up-coming COP 20 Climate Conference in Lima, and had other ad hoc meetings too numerous to recount.
Don’t get me wrong – I love it, and I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. But those taunts from our opponents about UKIP MEPs not doing very much look increasingly absurd.
An occasional tourism recommendation
In the dying days of August I drove down to Kent to visit my grandchildren, and we made our way to the delightful village of Penshurst, in Kent. Penshurst Place, with its award-winning gardens, is well worth a visit. We lunched in the Leicester Arms (a neat link to my East Midlands region, now I come to think of it). Britain, and especially Kent, is blessed with a great many fine pubs and pub-restaurants. But I thought the Leicester Arms was exceptional. The ivied building in Kentish vernacular style. The charming and relaxing decor. And the excellent food. If you’re down that way, both the village and the pub should be on your itinerary.
Quote of the month
Roger Bootle, Daily Telegraph, Sept 15th (writing on the Scottish referendum)
What really matters is togetherness. Why don’t the arguments against British membership of the EU also count against Scottish membership of the UK? The answer is that to some extent they do. But everything depends on the specifics of the Union, the nature of its institutions, how well it works and the depth of fellow-feeling between its members. It is about whom we think of as “us” and whom we think of as “them”.
The nations of the United Kingdom have fought, suffered and triumphed together in three major wars and umpteen smaller ones, and we have a shared history, shared values, and a common language. How many barrels of oil is this worth? It is priceless.
I made rather the same case in my blog post.
The folly of Strasbourg
Just when you thought that everything one could say about Strasbourg had been said, it gets worse.
There are few direct flights to Straz. So we change flights in Paris or Brussels or Frankfurt, and risk losing our luggage. Or we fly to some remote airport and endure a bus ride longer than the flight. Yesterday the bus journey down from Frankfurt took 2½ hours, and then we got stuck in a traffic jam about half a mile from the parliament.
After sitting going nowhere for another twenty minutes, I got off and walked, trailing suitcases.
Strasbourg must be the least accessible, and most absurd, parliament in Europe. If not in the world.
Also have a look at the UKIP MEP web-site www.ukipmeps.org